Horseback riding, also known as horse riding or equestrianism, dates back to 6,000 BC, when riders used horses during warfare, as a means of transport, and for pulling carts. Currently, horseback riding is reserved for recreational and competitive purposes. Although horse and chariot races were in the ancient Greek Olympic Games, riding only became part of the Olympics in 1900.
Horseback riding is popular in the United States. It is a $40 billion-a-year industry, with over two million horse owners accounting for about nine million horses. The industry employs close to 2 million people. As of 2022, more than six million Americans go horseback riding every year, either recreationally or competitively. As a competitive sport, about 900,000 horses compete or train for horse races annually.
There are three primary horseback riding styles: English horseback riding, Western horseback riding, and Group. English and Western horseback riding styles are both popular in the United States. English horseback riding has its roots in Europe but was soon adopted in America. On the other hand, Western horseback riding started with cattle ranch owners in the country.
Importantly, the two have some differences, mostly relating to the equipment used and the riding styles. In English horseback riding, the saddle is smaller and lighter than its Western counterpart, helping the rider stay as close to the horse as possible. This saddle is ideal for jumping and dressage events.
In contrast, the Western saddle is bigger to spread the rider’s weight over a large surface area on the horse uniformly. This makes it more comfortable than the English saddle, hence, it is the preferred option for long trails. Additionally, it may have a “horn” feature at the front, previously used by the rider to tie a rope when driving cattle.
Regarding riding styles, in English horseback riding, one holds the reins tightly with both hands to give them a good grip and control of the horse. In Western horseback riding, the rider holds the reins loosely and may only use one hand. In such a case, the other hand remains free to hold the rope as one drives cattle. However, each riding style can be used for sporting and recreational purposes.
Within each category are specific horse-riding styles suited for different activities. English riding styles include dressage, eventing, show jumping, saddle seat, English pleasure, and hunting. Western styles include barrel racing, reining, endurance, cutting, and Western pleasure.
Group horse riding happens when several people ride horses to achieve certain goals. This occurs in events such as cattle driving and during sporting events, mostly polo and horseball.
Beginners prefer Western horseback riding since the bigger saddle makes the rider feel secure and is more comfortable than the English saddles. Nonetheless, every riding style requires practice, thus, there may be no superior style to the others.
Horseback riding has many health benefits. By balancing and staying upright at all times, a person’s core strength improves. This translates to better posture, reduced lower back pain, enhanced sports performance, and few injuries. Horse riding also enhances a person’s muscle tone. This results from handling the horse while making different turns and maneuvers.
As the body moves during riding, circulation improves, contributing to overall cardiovascular health. Also, as the muscles stretch through such movement, one increases their motion range, consequently improving their flexibility.